The research, conducted at Saint Leo University near Tampa, Fla., indicates that violent games have short-term effects on those who play them. Kevin Kieffer, assistant professor of psychology, and student Jessica Nicoll extracted patterns and themes from 20 years of studies, but stopped short of aggregating the statistics from those studies, which Kieffer says would have yielded more complete and authoritative findings. The pair presented their research last week at an annual gathering of the American Psychological Association, prompting a resolution from the association.
Kieffer says the research points to numerous gaps that can be filled with further studies on the topic. Among the areas of study he suggests is attempting to determine whether those who play violent games are predisposed to violent behavior to begin with. "I think we really have to get to describing the individuals who are playing the games and see if they're any different from the population," he says. Kieffer also says that a truly complete study would involve research from institutions in multiple geographies to achieve demographic balance.
The research cites many examples of violent behavior egged on by video games. Findings over the past 20 years include a tendency of 8th and 9th graders to be more hostile, more argumentative with authority, and more likely to be involved in physical altercations with other students. One study also found evidence of a link between violent games and poor academic performance.
Not surprisingly, the research verified that boys spend a lot more time playing violent games than girls. Female characters often are portrayed in subordinate roles, which may provide less incentive for girls to play. However, those girls who do play violent video games are more likely to play aggressively afterward, Kieffer and Nicoll found.
Based on Kieffer's and Nicoll's findings, the APA drafted a resolution recommending a number of steps to reduce violence in video games. They include teaching media literacy to children to develop their ability to critically evaluate what's presented to them; encouraging video game makers to recognize the link between violent game images and resulting behaviors, and the potential for games to have more influence on youths than violent movies and television programs; and developing a rating system that more accurately reflects the content in video games.
Kieffer suggests that parents also should take responsibility for the content their kids are being exposed to--especially with video games, which parents often know little about. But he's also careful to point out that any concrete action should be predicated upon additional research. "I'm thinking more from a preventative standpoint," he says. "If there's a segment of the population that's being damaged by a product, preventing that damage would be important. I don't think we know that at this point."